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Archaeology and Early History

RELIGION AND BURIAL TRADITIONS

The existence of ancient pagan and Christian burial sites in and around Dartford provides valuable evidence of the beliefs of the local populace. Pagan and Christian burials each have their own distinctive characteristics

 

  

Roman glass cinerary urn: Southfleet

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CREMATION AND INHUMATION

TInitially, cremation was the dominant method for disposing of the dead, the ashes of the deceased being placed in a glass or pottery urn. Pagan Roman cremations entailed a variety of different objects being placed with the burnt bones. These objects included coins, a lamp, or small pots. In time, inhumation (burial) grew in popularity until it completely replaced cremation. The corpse was laid out fully clothed and shrouded in a wood, lead or stone coffin. Pagan graves were usually aligned in a North-South direction. A coin was often placed in the mouth of the deceased and ornaments and equipment were placed next to the body as offerings. Many of the goods buried with the dead were related to food and drink, they were intended to afford a feast for the dead in the afterlife. There is often evidence of the disturbance of earlier burials, as well as more than one body buried in a single grave.

  

Saxon burial items

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Early Christians were not in favour of the cremation of the dead because they believed that bodies should be kept intact in anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming. Christians were usually buried on a strict east-west orientation with the head to the West. This would have allowed the individual to face Christ, assumed to be coming from the East at the time of the Second Coming. Christians were not buried with grave goods or food for the after life. Sometimes efforts were made to preserve the body by encasing it is plaster. Infant burials are commonly associated with Christian cemeteries, but not pagan cemeteries. Christians believe that all individuals have equal spiritual status from birth.

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